Thursday, 31 December 2009

Cheers to 2009

Well its almost time for the Hootenany and welcome to the next decade (whatever it is called). It is traditional at times such as this to look back and fondly recall good and bad times. With a brain like mine, recalling yesterdays stuff is hard enough  but there are one or two great nature conservation memories despite the grey matter decay.

Fondly leading the pack is the Pine Marten survey at Harwood. Armed with spatulas, plastic bags and a lack of insect repellent, our team braved swarms of flies in search of elusive marten scats. The discerning eyes rejected many possibles to recover only 3 or 4, one of which we were later informed looked "very hopeful". Feeeling like Eurovision hopefuls, the team went about their daily tasks for a few weeks as the DNA boffins did their stuff. Finally the great day arrived and Kevin O'Hara, the Willy Wonka of mammal work, passed over the golden sheet with a grin from ear to ear.   With festive fervour, my eyes scanned the text, the definitive proof of pine marten prescence clutched in my, dog, fox and.........human! Not a bit of bogroll in sight when we collected that sample! How the mighty are fallen!

Next are my trips to Coquet Island with/for RSPB. NWT has a good relationship here, and I was pleased to chair the management committee for a couple of years. This time around, we were trying to look into the possibilities of grazing to deal with the increasingly problematic vegetation growth which serves to cause so many problems for the chicks. It never ceases to amaze me that Paul and Zoe (and the gang) get stuck on this small rock, so close to the coast but it may as well be another planet at times. I admire the dedication and appplication they give for this cause. 2009 was good as many species had done well, Roseates in particular. To think that there is a possibility that getting volunteers to cut the grass had actually had some benefit to this very special bird makes me glow inside and shows the value of co-operation. However, the two highlights for me here are really the boat trip over at the end of the season and the coincidence with a reasonable fall of birds. Seeing so many pied wagtails and chiffchaffs in one place at once was great, but the appearance of a bright blue budgie topped it all!

Not wishing to sideline the fantastic news of breeding Osprey and Marsh Harriers, my final glow comes from filthy lucre. Yes, money! Root of all evil - but essential to allow us to achieve things. In a tough financial climate, getting not one, but THREE grants from the Aggregates Levy has been fantastic and one I am also very proud of. This cash has allowed NWT (my employers), to undertake work on our unique grasslands on the Great Whin Sill. We are even doing geology man! Fantastic stuff, even if grasslands are not an instant excitement like birds.

I have also loved media work this year. Radio is the best, and I have really enjoyed joining Carl at Lionheart for our wildlife programme, which we cunningly disguised as a Blues fiesta. Watch this space for news on this in 2010. I also met a few celebs, none more enjoyable than Matt Baker during a film piece for Countryfile (my third appearance!) - what a top bloke.

Hauxley and Druridge have a special place in my life now as well (thanks Trish) and I finally have a companion on my trips oot. Its even forced my youngest to slip off the sofa, don his boots and take the air. Nothing can express the joy to hear him say "Thanks for taking me to Hauxley Dad, it was lush, I had a great day".

There will be more, I am sure. Its certainly better than the football (apart from Wembley with Whitley - Parakeet - tick!)

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Gannin' Fer A Gawk at Holywell

A day for staying inside really but I dragged myself out to Holywell this afternoon with dark skies looming and a wind that carried threats of arctic conditions later.

A quick trip to the public hide showed a couple of meadow pipits feeding in the short grass but nothing else of note. If I was hoping for some respite from the growing gale, the members hide was not the place to go next! Directly in the teeth of the wind, I was glad of the extra jacket as the chill factor soared but it was obvious that the ground temperature was warmer than recently as the pond is starting to defrost and there was a larger area of open water, with waves forming.

That said, the bird life was thinner than Twiggy on a diet! A handful of mallard and 6 wigeon, two mute swans chugging into the wind, a few gulls, two coot, 8 moorhens and a cormorant. The short appearance of a little grebe brightened the view briefly, but it moved off quickly. Six lapwings sat in the field to the east amongst a huge flock of gulls, but by then it was too cold to worry in case there was anything unusual!

Not a huge haul but...Man did that tea taste good!